Fort Smith Director criticizes spending on Riverfront Park Sports Complex

by Aric Mitchell (aric.mitchell@gmail.com) 107 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved $1.938 million in consent agenda items related to the Riverfront Park Sports Complex on Tuesday night, Jan. 3, but it was not without opposition from City Director George Catsavis.

Catsavis, who earlier in the evening joined Directors André Good, Keith Lau, and Mike Lorenz in pledging oaths for new four-year terms, voted for one half of the consent agenda resolutions. However, he took issue with a $938,752 request from the city’s parks and recreation department to begin construction on Riverfront Park Phase I. The project — awarded to Mulberry, Ark.-based Axioo Construction against an engineers’ estimate of $1.206 million — would consist of two full-sized adult soccer fields and a parking lot to accommodate the city’s more than 350 organized soccer teams.

Catsavis told Talk Business & Politics after the vote the city was “spending money we don’t have.”

Catsavis was particularly bothered by a future expense of $700,000 — not on Tuesday’s agenda — that would bring water and sewer lines to the Riverfront Park Sports Complex.

“You appropriate the money for that when we can’t even fix the sewer we’ve got now? Come on, that money needs to stay in the sewer we have,” he said.

Catsavis said there were “too many variables” for him to feel comfortable voting for it, especially considering the additional “hundreds of thousands of dollars” it would cost to maintain the facility after constructed.

He continued: “Maybe down the line when finances get better, yeah, but I just couldn’t support it right now. We don’t have money for police and fire or equipment for our policemen. We need to pay our bills first. I’m holding the line. I’m not spending any more money until things get better.”

Despite the opposition, Catsavis did join with directors in approving a $999,517 bid to begin construction on the first phase of the Spradling Avenue Extension project, which would serve the Riverfront Park Sports Complex. The winning bidder for the project was Forsgren, Inc., which beat out five other bids from companies in Fort Smith, Van Buren, Mulberry, and Little Rock, ranging from $1 million to $1.342 million against an engineers’ estimate of $1.2 million.

Both of Tuesday’s Riverfront-related projects align with the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which was approved by the Board of Directors in December 2014. The estimated notice to proceed date for the Forsgren contract is Jan. 16, with an estimated completion date of June 14, 2017. The Axioo contract, said Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Director Doug Reinert, would likely receive a notice to proceed in mid-February or the first of March, “and it should be done mid-June to end of June, something like that.”

Reinert also clarified the $700,000 in utilities work would be further out and likely not in 2017.

“That’ll be later. We’re still trying to figure out the plan, and how much it’s going to cost and how we’re going to get it there. Right now we’re just trying to get the soccer fields built, so (the soccer teams) can start using them,” Reinert said.

City officials will have to balance any future utilities to the park around federally mandated sewer upgrades related to the $480 million consent decree from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The decree, a penalty for violations of the federal Clean Water Act signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1972, has been a sore spot for Fort Smith residents since it started affecting sewer rates. In previous comments, Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken told Talk Business & Politics that some bills had risen by more than 160% since the order was filed on Jan. 2, 2015.

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